Dortmund was the latest stage for the Argentina national team as Lionel Scaloni’s evolving machine continues to trundle slowly forward, coughing and spluttering the whole way while giving the general sense of progress. Of the two teams involved in Wednesday’s friendly Germany will be most disappointed – if not bewildered – with an eventually thrilling 2-2 draw, as the Albiceleste made up for a dreadful first half by coming back to snatch a draw against the Europeans.
Snatch is perhaps the appropriate word. Few would have imagined Scaloni’s men taking anything from the fixture as they trudged off the pitch at Signal Iduna Park following an opening 45 minutes that ranked near the worst seen from an Argentina outfit in the last decade. Insipid, ineffective going forward and downright catastrophic when pushed back by a youthful, experimental Germany team missing plenty of starts, the visitors were given a torrid time. The decision in particular to pair fading Premier League duo Nicolás Otamendi and Marcos Rojo together in the centre of defence, flanked by Juan Foyth in the youngster’s first start of the season, was made to look hare-brained as Germany ran riot and could have gone into the break more than two goals ahead, if not for some slapdash finishingIn fairness to Scaloni, whose policy of trial and error while sitting on the Albiceleste bench has been apparent ever since he took over from Jorge Sampaoli, the coach did manage to plug the gaps after what must have been a tense recess. The disastrous Rojo was sacrificed and Nicolás Tagliafico moved into the middle alongside OtamenAFP/INA FASSBENDER di, a switch that did little to improve Argentina’s general play but at least formed a serviceable barrier between Germany’s young forwards and the exposed Agustín Marchesín. The real change, however, came when former River Plate man Lucas Alario – a spy behind enemy lines who plays his club football with Bayer Leverkusen – entered for Paulo Dybala, instantly giving the attack more direction and intensity.
Alario needed just four minutes to beat Marc Andre ter Stegen, heading home fellow substitute Marcos Acüña’s pinpoint cross to bring the deficit back to 2-1. Having seemingly lulled Germany into a false sense of security through the opening hour, Argentina’s pool-hall hustlers were now on a roll. Leandro Paredes, Otamendi and Alario again went close before debutant Lucas Ocampos, yet another replacement, converted the equaliser six minutes from the end.
A game that began with a lavish mural from the stands celebrating Germany’s four World Cup wins – with pride of place rather cruelly given to Mario Götze’s slaying of the Albiceleste back in 2014 – ultimately escaped from the hosts’ grasp, vindicating Scaloni and his side shorn of Boca and River players. Unsurprisingly, it was that hectic final half-hour on which the apprentice coach chose to focus.
“There was nothing good in the first half due to our mistakes, we were taken on the counter,” he told reporters after the game. “But the important thing is that we were able to change and understand the match. We showed there are players who are capable of wearing this shirt.”
He continued: “In these games performance is what counts, the result is secondary. In the second half we saw a different Argentina, more determined. In the first there were certain errors, it would have been fine if they were not there. There were a lot of good things and we have to correct the bad.”
We have to correct the bad. If
the past 15 months of Scaloni
stewardship had to be summarised in a single phrase, the
above five words would be
strong contenders. The journey
has seen Argentina trip over the
same rock multiple times, as
during a period of laudable renovation (much of it, lest we
forget, performed in the absence of the talismanic Lionel Messi) the same old faces whose
Albiceleste careers are on the
wane, the Rojos, Di Marías and
their ilk, have earned recalls
and largely failed to impress. If
Wednesday’s second half proved that Scaloni’s troops have
come a long way since those
dark days of the 2018 World
Cup, the first half equally
showed that there is quite some
distance still left to cover before
Argentina can stake a claim
once more among football’s international elite.